Officers throughout the United States and perhaps internationally have heard use of force instructors discuss the "21 Foot Rule" during their officer safety, firearms and deadly force training. As both a use of force instructor and practicing forensic police practices expert, I have also trained and testified to this concept myself.
On a hot July day, fire and police are called to the home of a 55 year old man suffering from heat stroke. Police arrive first and find the man sitting on a bench in his front yard. When the officers approach the man and ask him to give them his cane, he becomes agitated and non-compliant. One officer suddenly grabs the cane away from the man, who screams and suddenly stands up. The man is tased, taken to the ground, beaten and handcuffed. He is transported to the hospital where ER physicians confirm a diagnosis of heat stroke. The man has no criminal history. He sustains numerous moderate injuries which keep him from returning to work for several weeks. The officers and agency are sued and settle out of court.
Not long after I promoted to sergeant, I was training in a patrol division. I was riding with another sergeant when we received a call from two patrol officers. They were at an apartment complex and had chased a male into an apartment. They requested a supervisor go by with them. So, as part of my training, we went.
I have read a number of books, studies, and court cases in my career to support the fact that eyewitness identification, by itself, is never sufficient enough to send a person to prison. This is not news. Over the past 20 years, more and more people are being exonerated for violent crimes due to DNA . This article is not to rehash old arguments. Instead, it is more of a reminder to investigators everywhere to not finalize a case, charge a person, and send them to prison based solely on an eyewitness' identification.
On November 5, 2010, Superior Court Judge Hon. Robert Perry sentenced former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle to two years in state prison for the January 1,2009, accidental shooting death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant at the Fruitdale BART station.
A disturbance in May, 1991 (Raab, 1991) at a new high security institution in upstate New York could have been averted if seven officers had not left their posts to have lunch or take unauthorized breaks